entrepreneurIt's well-known that women rule their family's pocketbook and make many of the major purchasing decisions in their households, and now there's proof that women play a big role in the economy as business owners. A report from the Center for Women's Business Research found that the eight million women-owned businesses in the U.S contribute $3 trillion to the economy and create or maintain 23 million jobs. That's 16 percent of the total workforce.

Combined together, women-owned businesses would have the fifth largest gross domestic product rate in the world, ahead of the U.K., France and Italy. Pretty impressive. The New York Times reports that, armed with this data, women business leaders are going to the White House, Congress and the Small Business Administration to ask for more support for women-owned business.

The downside is that 20 percent of these women-owned businesses have just one employee: the woman owner. While the SBA does have a resource page for female entrepreneurs and sponsors Women's Business Centers across the country, the criticism is that these centers show women how to start a business but don't really focus on teaching them how to expand them.

For women who want to take their business out of their garage, kitchen, or study, there is an initiative specifically focused on helping them. The Make Mine a Million $ Business Award offers a package of coaching, financing, PR and other business support that can take your business to the million-dollar mark in 12 to 18 months. Eligible women should own at least half of a business that's more than two years old and has annual revenues of at least $200,000.

The application deadline is January 15, but you can join in on a teleconference call on December 10 or January 7 to ask questions and get more details. Approximately 20 finalists will give their elevator pitches at the American Express OPEN Women's Business Summit, held in Houston on February 17-18, and find out if they're winners.

Even if you don't meet this contest's criteria, forward it to women you know that may. The more help female entrepreneurs get in turning their businesses into million-dollar-plus companies, the more our economy will benefit everyone.

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